INTERVIEW: JUDSON HAMLIN, ASSISTANT PROSECUTOR, MIDDLESEX COUNTY (NJ) PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE

Judson Hamlin, a native of East Brunswick, New Jersey (NJ), graduated from Rutgers Preparatory School in 1986. In 1990, he earned his BA from the University of Richmond, majoring in History and Political Science, with a minor in English.

After attending the University of Toledo School of Law, he graduated cum laude from New York Law School in 1996.

He began his career with the Somerville, NJ firm of Golden, Rothschild, Spagnola & Lundell. While there, he worked in the fields of Civil Rights defense, asbestos defense and products liability. He also appeared in Workers’ Compensation and Municipal Courts.

In 1998, he moved to the Middlesex County (NJ) Prosecutor’s Office, where he remains to this day. He has led the Domestic Violence and Narcotics units and is currently the Chief of the Pre-Trial Unit. In that role, he has overseen the office’s management of Bail Reform and the Grand Jury. He has also served as a legal advisor to police departments through the county.

A former President of the New Brunswick Bar Association and Trustee of the Middlesex County Bar, he was recognized as the latter Association’s Criminal Practitioner of the Year in 2009.

He has lectured on ethics, criminal justice reform, search and seizure and courtroom testimony. He is a member of the NJ Attorney General’s Fingerprint Compliance Committee.

Outside the office, he is married to Lisa and is the father of two daughters, Ilona (Incoming freshman at Goucher – GO GOPHERS!) and Amelia (15). He is an avid birder, hiker and native plant gardener.

Describe a day in the life of an Assistant Prosecutor.

For the most part, the day of the assistant prosecutor is spent in court; arguing motions, obtaining search warrants, negotiating pleas, arraigning or sentencing defendants and trying cases. In short, it is a job spent on your feet. Research and writing has its place in preparing arguments but it is about being able to adapt on the run to a unexpected ruling, defense or witness.

My most satisfying days on the job have been when the jury has returned a guilty verdict on a tough case. There are some that stand out – a homicide conviction in the brutal murder of a prostitute in Perth Amboy; a stalking conviction against an ex-boyfriend of a woman whose life had been ruined by repeated threats and false 911 calls; the first strict liability drug death case in the county. The satisfaction isn’t really personal, it is knowing that the victim or their family was right to trust in the justice system.

What initially attracted you to this field? What are some of the rewards of this area of law and the legal profession?

My transition to the Prosecutor’s Office was (I thought at the time) going to be temporary. I was planning on going back to civil litigation after getting some trial experience. But I quickly realized how interesting and exciting the work was. Along the way, I’ve also appreciated the greater balance between work and life – using vacation time without having to make up billable hours, less time spent at the office on nights and weekends, not driving from court to court to court and the like.

How would you compare the reality of your profession to the picture you had of it before entering and while in law school? Are there downsides to your field?

Even though I worked as a paralegal before going back to law school in a mid-sized firm and thought I knew what the practice would be, I think I was blind to the amount of “other” work that went in to civil practice. Client development, marketing and the realities of billable hours were all more complicated and draining than I had guessed and were the reasons that I left to go to the Prosecutor’s Office.

As a career prosecutor, I think it is easy to become numb to much of the suffering that you deal with every day. Man’s inhumanity to his fellow man, woman and child is, unfortunately, routine. It’s nothing to engage in daily conversations about drug overdose deaths, human trafficking and armed robberies. I’ve had to remember that the question, “what’d you do at work today?” is not always best answered with details.

Do you have any advice for an undergraduate interested in pursuing this body of law and the legal profession?

First, I think you need to know how much more of a grind law school is going to be. To be honest, I did well in college without a tremendous effort. I had a fair amount of youthful ego about how law school would be a breeze. False. If you don’t stay on top of the work from day one, you will miss out. You cannot pull an all-nighter and learn a semester of Wills, Trust and Estates, or tie together 200 years of in personam jurisdiction for Civ Pro in a couple of days. Won’t work.

Whatever your field of interest, try to find internships along the way. Our office hires (unpaid) college students and summer associates every year. In an office of our size (50 attorneys), those interns get up close and personal with the cases and even, as rising 3L students, get to argue motions in court.

Also, get involved in the local or county Bar Association as soon as possible. Never underestimate the value of old-school networking. Most groups have a Young Lawyers Section, and they are constantly looking for volunteers to be on committees, work with Moot Court teams and just show up. You’ll meet judges and attorneys in a less formal setting and make valuable connections.

Contact Information:

Judson Hamlin is happy to answer questions or offer guidance and is reachable by email at: jhhamlin@hotmail.com.

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